By Elaine Omann
Brandi Thomas was selected as the 2015-2016 Teacher of the Year at Atlantic Coast High School, where she has been a science teacher since the school opened six years ago. Previously, she worked at other Duval County schools and now has more than 14 years of experience in teaching. Thomas teaches AP sophomore Biology and Chemistry and is pleased to support her students as they complete these high level courses. Some students are interested in science-related jobs and others are taking the classes as prerequisites for college.
Aristotle’s quote on her email signature line reflects the philosophy she lives out as a teacher: “Educating the mind without the heart is no education at all.”
- How were you selected as Teacher of the Year and what achievements are you most proud of in your career?
The principal asks for nominations at the beginning of the year from the faculty. The top three teacher nominations are then asked to write and respond to their philosophy of teaching, awards received and achievements. The final selection is made by the faculty with this additional information. I am most proud of my relationships with my students. Regardless of changes or shifts in education, the interaction with students is why I continue to enjoy my work.
- Could you explain some of the areas of study in courses that you teach? What kind of projects are students expected to accomplish?
I have students complete experiments on the topics first as a group and then I expect them to design one that shares their own understanding. There is a cart provided with materials and they can design one that is of interest to them. Students keep detailed notebooks that capture the ideas I present to them in class through many resources and media and then explain with their own learning as evidence of their learning.
- How do you maintain interest for your students?
I find students to be digital learners and they prefer more active learning than passive. I blend my methods and have a more inquiry-based approach. I use probing questions and less lecture or exam. My classroom is set up for conversations in a café style. It is a preferred style of learning with comfort and engagement just in like a coffee shop. I looked for chairs throughout the school that were not in use and brought these into my classroom for students. Coffee is available.
- Are there organizations or clubs which students can participate in out of school? Do you need volunteers from the community and what would they do?
Yes, there is a Science National Honor Society and I am the co-sponsor. Students can also be part of HOSA, which is related to health occupations. I would love to have guest speakers from the community to engage with students or have possible field trips. We meet after school at 2:30 p.m. and anyone interested can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, which is my school email.
- What are your hobbies? Do you get unusual reactions from people for being a science teacher?
I have a six-year-old son so I am going through the “soccer mom” stage. I would like more balance in my life and have time to read nonfiction books, the history of everything and biographies or about different religions. I do surprise people when I bring the conversation to a science point….I try not to, but it does go there. I also like to identify the STEM girls and call them my “quiet rockstars.” I want to continue to encourage them because it was missing when I was interested in science.
Photo courtesy Elaine Omann